Tuesday, August 11, 2009

"I want my church back!"...

complained a small group of people in one church I know well. They were upset because the congregation had moved from being the complacent, anti-growth "mom 'n pop" organization run by a few to a church staffed by a fulltime extension minister who had been chosen because of the congregation's need to grow--in order to survive.

"I want my country back" is the rallying cry of those who find it difficult to adapt to the changes being proposed by a new, more progressive government. There are similarities between our nation's situation and the situation of congregations who are being urged by a new leader to grow beyond the old ways of doing things, to relinquish old, less-healthy patterns, and adopt new ones.

In both situations, a small group of people threatens to hijack the democratic process by introducing innuendo, rumor, falsehood and threats. In the church, parking lot complainers diss the minister's sermons, his/her chance remarks, his/her failure to be all things to all people, and threaten to withdraw financial support. Their complaints and even lies are given credence by their loud voices even though the threat of cutting off the money feels like blackmail.

In the nation, "tea baggers", "birthers" and others who have been convinced by the noisy rhetoric spouted by Fox News are feeding on innuendo, rumor, falsehood and threats. So-called "conservatives" (a term whose meaning has been distorted by the current political scene, just as has "liberal") hang around town hall meetings with their scared-to-death adherents, whipping up fear and resentment with lies and rumors.

In the church, the minister often leaves under a cloud, having done nothing wrong except to introduce change. The church suffers badly because it is divided by anger; loyal members look for another, less angry church to attend; dissenters, having "won", inherit a church that often spirals down into chaos and bankruptcy. And the minister's career has suffered a setback because a negotiated settlement doesn't look too great in a candidacy packet.

In the nation, a president elected by popular vote who promised to bring change in positive ways is subjected to hateful rhetoric, suspicious "birthers" who want to get rid of him, town hall complainers who scream and heckle and disrupt the democratic process. The nation suffers badly because it is divided by anger; that anger erupts in violence, death threats, and big bucks changing hands to keep the ugliness going---a blow at the integrity of the United States of America.

Is the stubborn church at war with itself the true picture of religious faith? Is the nation at war with itself the true picture of democracy? There is an inherent right to dissent, both in our churches and in our nation. The danger comes when that dissent is fueled by lies and paranoia.

9 comments:

Bill Baar said...

Read Robert Reich's "The White House deal with Big Pharma" undermines democracy yesterday. http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2009/08/10/pharma/

Writing off opponents to this mess offered in HR3200 as loons ducks some awfully serious and legit questions about a bill that's little reform and awfully illiberal.

Think a bit before dismissing those who disagree. (Hofstader did this years ago with Goldwater supporters --read E J Dionne's A Wrong Turn Led to the 'L-Word'http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/21/AR2006082101146.html) .

Consider why Congress held no hearings on this bill. Easy to dismiss opponents as loons instead.

That's a huge mistake.

ms. kitty said...

Actually, in case it's not obvious, this post is not about whether the health care bill is any good, Bill. I'll publish this comment but no more arguments about the health care bill.

ms. kitty said...

To clarify, this post is about method, not health care, and about the danger to democracy posed by people who make hay out of fear.

Anonymous said...

In the church, the minister often leaves under a cloud, having done nothing wrong except to introduce change.

Danger! Danger!
As my own minister commented to several lay leaders who were discussing simple ways to change Joys and Concerns, “There be dragons.”
Not so simple after all.

The church suffers badly because it is divided by anger; loyal members look for another, less angry church to attend; dissenters, having "won", inherit a church that often spirals down into chaos and bankruptcy. And the minister's career has suffered a setback because a negotiated settlement doesn't look too great in a candidacy packet.

So sad for all involved.
For the congregants reacting in fear to the loss of the beloved familiar.
For other congregants who envisioned a transformation of the worship experience.
For the lay leaders and ministers who are unable to chart a course through the sea change.

P l e a s e.
Can we all work to support and expect excellence in ministerial and lay leader development and support? The winds do blow and seas rise up and we need leaders who have the skills to both steady the ship and chart the new way.

ms. kitty said...

Sorry, Bill.

ms. kitty said...

Once again to clarify: legitimate questioning of performance of a minister or provisions of a health care bill are being drowned out by the cacophony of fearful (sometimes paid) dissenters and angry people who see their power diminishing. That's the topic.

Masasa said...

Ms. Kitty, I think you are right on. I think method can be constructive, and it can also be destructive. And I think you have made a seemingly sound observation that the national situation is often a mirrored dynamic in our own congregations.

For the church, such a dynamic indeed can destroy the whole of the congregation...even if slowly, over many years of conflict. I've even seen quite a bit of damage done in regards to congregational relationships with the less influential but still important members of the professional team of a church, including music directors and religious educators. It happened with my childhood DRE and my childhood congregation, in my teen years. While the church stands, and is growing and healthy in many ways (and the Religious Educator eventually came to serve another congregation), for me, it resulted in a true crisis of faith during a very vulnerable period of my development.

Right relations. This is sacred work for people of faith, and it can't just occur outside of church walls. We must be working at it over and over and over again inside our own churches too.

I agree with the anonymous poster who said, "we need leaders who have the skills to both steady the ship and chart the new way," and I think that happens when leaders work silmultaneously on building a culture of right relations while also working for change. But even leaders can't change the culture alone. Eventually, the congregation has to invest. As it relates to right relations, it is a matter of our own salvation, IMHO.

I hope I am teaching my children something similar in regard to engagement with national issues-- the importance of constructivity-- though I hope if they ever felt powerless over an issue that seemed to them to be of dire importance, that they would speak out in any way they could.

kimc said...

Have you read "Spiritual Maturity" by Rev. Shelley Strauss Rollison? It's a great essay:
http://rainbowsendpress.com/ministry/maturity.html

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, Kim, her essay is worth reading all right.